Istanbul, Turkey | AFP |
Aydin Sefa Akay is one of over 41,000 people arrested and awaiting trial in Turkey in the wake of the unsuccessful July 15 coup plot to unseat President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
But Akay is no ordinary prisoner. A former Turkish ambassador, he is a top judge attached to the UN’s Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT).
In that capacity, Akay had been working with the UN international court trying suspects over the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and his detention has paralysed proceedings into a key case.
On Tuesday a public hearing will be held in The Hague when all parties, including Turkey, can state their case in a bid to break the deadlock.
Akay’s family say he is being held illegally following his detention at his home in September and ridicule accusations that he had a link to the coup plot.
Specifically, he stands accused by the Turkish authorities of downloading and using a messaging app called ByLock which Ankara says was used by the plotters to prepare the coup.
– ‘Came to the house’ –
“On September 21 the police came to the house (and) took my father to prison,” his daughter Meric Akay told AFP at her home in Milan.
“They looked in all the books he has — he has 2,000 books — they looked at every page, they looked in the wardrobes, everywhere.”
She said “there is no formal accusation against my father, it is illegal to keep him in prison.”
“But apart from that, he is an international judge of the United Nations, which means that he has diplomatic immunity,” she said, adding that Ankara had failed to answer UN demands for his release.
According to the state-run Anadolu news agency, Akay, a former ambassador to Burkina Faso from 2012-2014, downloaded ByLock in December 2015 and used the application for several months.
Akay denied in his statement any link to the organisation of Fethullah Gulen, the US-based preacher who Ankara blames for the July 15 coup bid.
But according to Anadolu, prosecutors accuse him of being a key figure in a Masonic lodge tied to Gulen.
Under a nearly half-year state of emergency, Turkey has embarked on a relentless crackdown against alleged supporters of Gulen.
After previously forming an alliance with Erdogan, the cleric built up a huge network of supporters in all key institutions including the army and police but also the judiciary.
Erdogan has now vowed to wipe out what he calls the “virus” of Gulen from every Turkish institution.
– ‘Illegal detention’ –
Akay’s detention has paralysed the appeals hearing of former Rwandan minister Augustin Ngirabatware, sentenced in 2012 to 35 years in jail for his role in the 1994 genocide in the African nation.
The term imposed by a UN international court was cut to 30 years on appeal in 2014, but he is now appealing the two rulings.
Akay is one of five judges assigned to hear the appeal. Ngirabatware has now filed a request to be released temporarily from jail.
The presiding judge of the appeals chamber, Theodor Meron, has urged Turkey to free Akay, saying he has diplomatic immunity.
Before ruling on Ngirabatware’s demand, Meron has ordered the public hearing to be held on Tuesday in The Hague.
Turkey has been invited to the hearing, but court officials on Friday told AFP they had “no information” on whether any representatives of Ankara would attend.
Meron said he had asked to be allowed to visit Akay, but there had been “no formal communication” from Turkey on the issue.
He has expressed concern for Akay’s wellbeing and has made clear he cannot simply be replaced on the case as that would go against the principles of an independent justice system.
“I appeal to the government of Turkey… to release Judge Akay in the spirit of humanitarianism to enable him to perform his judicial duties,” Meron told the UN Security Council in December.
Meric Akay said the detention of her father was not just an injustice against him but all those involved with the Rwanda tribunal.
“Since he knows that he is innocent and that this detention is illegal, he has good hope,” she said.